Flanders (Dutch: Vlaanderen)  is the Dutch-speaking northern part of Belgium. It is wedged between the North Sea and the Netherlands in the north and Wallonia and France in the south. This region has an immense historical and cultural wealth which is made visible through its buildings, its works of art and its festivals.
- Antwerp — Flanders' biggest city, with plenty to see and do.
- Beringen — former important coal-mining city in Limburg, with a large industrial heritage
- Bruges — also known as the "Venice of the north", a very nice medieval town with lots of small canals
- Hasselt — capital city of Limburg, with a lot of greenery and shopping possibilities
- Courtray — an old city with famous medieval towers (Broeltowers) and a big pedestrian shopping district
- Ghent — a more medieval city located approximatively in the center of Flanders, half way between Antwerp and Bruges
- Leuven — an old town with a very old university and a beautiful town hall
- Mechelen — small town with a famous cathedral
- Sint-Niklaas — offering nice cycling opportunities and boasts Belgium's largest market square
- Ypres — made famous by its destruction during the First World War; many memorials and museums
Nowadays, Flanders is one of the three federal regions of Belgium (the other two being Wallonia and Brussels). This means that it has its own government, a parliament and separate laws. Oddly enough the capital of Flanders is Brussels, lying in another federal region. But Flanders has travelled a long historic road before arriving at its present situation. For most of its history it was united with the Netherlands, which is still the closest partner. It was separated from the Netherlands and united with Wallonia as early as the 19th century, and the marriage is at times an unhappy and also dysfunctional one.
Flanders has several airports:
- Brussels Airport (BRU), . Located in Zaventem, this is the main airport in Belgium and likely the most convenient point of entry edit
- Kortrijk-Wevelgem International Airport (KJK), . Business airport in Wevelgem near Courtray edit
- Ostend - Bruges International Airport (OST), . Located in Oostende, mostly served by charter and freight flights edit
There are several ports at the coast to enter by boat and on the Schelde you can find several small ports too.
From the English coast (Dover f.e.) there are regular ferries to different cities.
The E19 goes through Flanders, also the E40 crosses the region.
Big cities in neighbouring countries (Paris, Amsterdam, London ...) have connections to bigger cities in Flanders. From there you can change train and reach every city in Flanders.
By bicycle or on foot. As we are in the European Union there are no borders and you can enter. Several places have nature parks and allow you to walk in and out (often following old-smugglers routes).
All roads (highways, main roads, ...) are free in Flanders. Some tunnels can ask for a fee to pass it (fe. Liefkenshoektunnel in Antwerp)
Roads are pretty good and signalisation is pretty good too. Older cities can appear to be a maze of one-way streets. Often it is better to park your car in a parking and continue on foot. Towns are not big in general.
By public transportation
The national train-company is called NMBS . Trains will get you to most cities.
In cities you will find busses, trams and metro from De Lijn (The Line). The same ticket is valid for 90 minutes for one zone. You can buy multiple-ride tickets (Lijnkaart), this is cheaper than buying a ticket per ride. These tickets are valid in every Flemish city.
In Hasselt public transportation is free!
Flanders has a vast net of special roads for bicycles. Get a map in a tourists office, because sometimes they can be hard to find.
The official language of Flanders is Dutch. Belgian Dutch, the official standard variety, has some vocabulary not used in the Netherlands and a distinct, soft accent but it is still standard Dutch. Nearly all Flemings with the partial exception of senior ones are capable of speaking standard Dutch, and while a tourist is not expected to speak the local language, knowing a few words or phrases will be highly appreciated.
Most people know English at least moderately. French is taught in schools by everyone, but not everybody is fluent in French, and addressing the locals in French could offend some of them (for political reasons rooted in historical grievances), so English is a better bet.
Historical cities, like Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, Leuven, Lier or Mechelen.
There are many music festivals organised throughout the summer. The bigger ones happen in a small village, because there is lots of space and not many neighbours to complain about the noise.
Some of the famous ones are:
- Pukkelpop (Near Hasselt) is still an independent festival organised by youth movements. They figure big names but try to have alternative groups too.
- Rock Werchter (Near Leuven), owned by Clearchannel features all big commercial bands.
- Maanrock (in Mechelen) is one of the larger free festivals. It's inside the city.
- Marktrock (in Leuven) has many different stages with different kinds of music all over the city. Most music is popular music, though there are many small bands playing there. The main stage is the only stage not to be free. Every time you enter you pay a small fee (5 euro in 2003).
- Sfinks (Near Antwerp) is a world music festival. It has a really nice atmosphere. There is a lot of side animation, like a big market.
- Openluchttheater Rivierenhof (Near Antwerp) isn't really a festival, though it has big bands all through the summer. Usually they "pick up" artists that have a few days without a gig.
- Slagkracht (in Beringen) is a free dance festival in Beringen-Mijn. Enjoy stunning views while dancing on an old coal-mine hill.
- Werchter Classic (Near Leuven) boasts classic rock bands, but has been featuring artists that had their break-through only recently. It's mostly a re-use of the Rock Werchter facilities.
- Graspop (Metal music), Rythm 'n Blues, Dranouter (Folk music), Cactus festival, Rock Ternat, [email protected] ... (there are too many to sum up)
The festivals organised in towns are often free and very nice. They stay away from commercial music and have good bands playing combined with small local bands.
Flanders has some nice music bands with some internation fame(dEUS, Das Pop, Zita Swoon, Soulwax,...)
- Drive-In Film Festival (in Beringen) Open Air Film Festival, first of it's kind in Belgium. Catch a movie from your car.
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:
|| 7-20 €
|| 20-60 €
|| +60 €
- Beer. Beer is taken seriously in Belgium. There are hundreds of brands to choose from. edit
- Café. Every city or village has a café. edit
Flanders is very safe. You will find that people are usually very helpful.
In towns, you should of course beware of usual things (pickpockets in tourist places) but outside Brussels, everything is safe.
- Flemings don't like to talk about their income or political preference. You should also avoid asking people about their views on religion.
- The Flanders-Wallonia question or dispute and the high number of separatist and extreme-right votes in Flanders are controversial topics and you should avoid asking people about their views on these as well.
- Speak either Dutch, English or German, which most Flemings speak well. Number four is French, which they also learn at school, but if you expect it to be their mother tongue, you may be regarded as disrespectful.
- Giving tips shows that you were content with the service given, but you are certainly not obliged to do so. It is sometimes done in bars and restaurants. Depending on the total, a tip of €0,50 to €2,50 is considered generous.
- It is polite to call the residents of Flanders Belgian or Flemish but not Dutch as this is extremely offensive to them. You will probably be ignored or get an icy stare at the worst. If you don't want to get in a long argument about the difference between Flanders and the Netherlands, it is probably best to avoid this topic.
- If you visit Flanders it would be very logical to also visit Wallonia. Though there is a different mentality, you will find that they are Belgians just like the Flemish (lots of beer and good food).
- Paris is pretty close, so are London and Amsterdam. These destinations can be reached by train easily.